European Sleeper’s first night train is a fact

European Sleeper sleeping wagon European Sleeper

The dream has come true for founders Elmer van Buuren and Chris Engelsman: the first night train of their start up European Sleeper set off last Thursday night from Berlin to Brussels. Despite the bureaucratic challenges, the train service is now a fact, by a company organised from the bottom up.

The Dutch-Belgian railway company was formed in 2021, and within three years, the first service is a fact. Though originally meant to go on to Prague, the fact that it the journey from Brussel ends in Berlin due to capacity constraints does not spoil the fun for European Sleeper. “The new sleeper service between Brussels and Berlin is not just relevant for the cities on the route”, the company states. “Thanks to the sleeper service, other attractive options to travel by train come into play as well, for example between London and Berlin (change in Brussels to the Eurostar), Paris and Berlin (change in Brussels to the Thalys), Brussels and Warsaw (change in Berlin to the EuroCity)”. From Berlin, taking a direct EuroCity to Prague of Czech operator České dráhy is also possible.

European Sleeper will celebrate the launch with an informal reception at Brussels Midi station upon the train’s arrival on Friday. On the 22nd of May, European Sleeper had a test ride with its own team, joined by partners and investors and supporters of the initiative, of which it shared drone footage online.

European Sleeper is organised as a cooperative. At the end of May 2021, European Sleeper raised 500,000 euros in seed capital within fifteen minutes by selling shares to more than 350 small investors from various countries in Europe and beyond. In 2022, 2,000,000 euros worth of shares were sold.

High ambitions

The operator’s ambition to add a new train connection every year. The connection between Brussels and Berlin will be started with rented carriages, but European Sleeper will soon invest in its own carriages with even more comfort, a modern look and more privacy options. Two of the start up’s main obstacles were – and still are – obtaining suitable rolling stock and the financing thereof. While financiers have clearly defined requirements that you can work towards, they remain risk-adverse. The way the rail sector works means that startups such as European Sleeper often cannot give the right assurances. For example, there is an inherent insecurity in having to request train paths every year.

A heads up for European Sleeper is the fact it was selected as one of 10 cross-border pilot projects in Europe, with it’s plan for a night train service between Amsterdam and Barcelona. The projects were selected by the European Commission to support international train connections. There is no dedicated funding for the pilot services, but it revolves around addressing obstacles to launch the services. Assistance could be provided, for example, in the form of coordination of stakeholders and assessment of compatibility with the legal framework.

Interested in night trains and want to join the discussion on how more night train services can be achieved? Join the free knowledge session dedicated to the night train renaissance, joined by European Sleeper and Back on Track, at RailTech Belgium on 7 June in Brussels and get your free ticket.

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Author: Esther Geerts


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